Thursday 6 February 2020

Shelf Life #2

Photo by LAUREN GRAY on Unsplash

Shelf Life
 is a new personal meme to help me in my ongoing attempt to de-clutter my bookshelves.
It's more than a Marie Condo of my books though.
It's aim is to reflect, honour and let go as many books as possible.

Most likely, in the next 12 months or so, Mr Books and I will be on the move. The thought of packing up everything we own again, gives me the horrors.

Therefore as time permits, I will reassess the many, many READ books stacked on my bookshelves.
(The unread TBR pile is another story all together!)

The aim of Shelf Life is to let go those books that I know I will never read again and to give them a proper send off.

My assessment criteria includes:
  • Does this book spark joy?
  • Honestly, will I ever reread this book?
  • How and why did this book come to be on my bookshelf anyway?
  • When and where did I read this book?
  • What are my memories of this book?
  • Is this book part of a series, a signed copy or a special edition?
  • Do I want to pack and unpack this book one more time? Or several more times, during what's left of my lifetime?
  • If I were to let this book go, would I feel regret, remorse or relief?
The first shelf life started with a stack of Australian authors. This week, I've ducked down to the next shelf to let go (or not) some of my UK authors.

Saturday | Ian McEwan
  • My current relationship with McEwan is best described as complicated.
  • But back on the 9th Nov 2005, when I bought my copy of Saturday, our relationship was still more hopeful than not. Full of promise and anticipation.
  • Saturday was the book that changed this.
  • Except for the truly threatening, disturbing scene with the daughter during the home invasion scene, I remember nothing at all about this book.
  • It felt self-indulgent.
  • Curiously, my most recent read, Middle England by Jonathan Coe, mentioned Saturday in passing.
  • The only reason this book has travelled me with for 15 yrs, through three moves, is for the simple fact, that my hardback edition has deckled edges.
  • I LOVE deckled edges.
  • No more! Saturday and it's lovely deckled edges, will not get packed up and unpacked for a fourth time.

Where Angels Fear to Tread | E. M. Forster
  • Entered my life on the 25th October 1992.
  • This was in the middle of my E. M. Forster phase.
  • My E. M. Forster phase began in 1987 when I watched A Room With a View for the first (of many) times.
  • Over the course of the next 7 or 8 years, I read (and watched) all of his novels, except for The Longest Journey, I believe.
  • WAFTT was my least favourite.
  • No need to revisit this one.

Lady Chatterley's Lover | D. H. Lawrence
  • Okay, I may not be able to part with this one after all.
  • On the title page, I have inscribed my name, the date, 11th April 1991, and place of purchase - The Book Inn, Charing Cross Rd, London.
  • I was badly scarred from reading Sons and Lovers at school. One of the few school texts that I hated with a passion.
  • But in 1991, I was 23 and just starting out on my year of working and travelling around the UK and Europe, as young Aussies are wont to do at that age. 
  • Lawrence's 'naughty' book, complete with erotic cover obviously appealed to my emerging adult self.
  • In 2011 or 12, we saw an en plein air performance of LCL at Rippon Lea House in Melbourne. Full frontal nudity and 'implied' sex scenes were a feature of this particular production. Instead of being sexy, it felt rather awkward.
  • It made me realise how immature this story really is.
  • I may never read it again, but it's one of the few London books I have. I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self to buy a copy of Middlemarch instead, or A Tale of Two Cities or A Room With a View. Something I would happily reread.

The Passion | Jeanette Winterson
  • As mentioned in my previous Shelf Life, an English high school teacher friend, changed the course of my reading life during the mid-90's. Another of the authors she introduced me to was Jeanette Winterson.
  • I acquired The Passion on the 22nd July 1995.
  • It utterly flummoxed me at the time. As well as astounded and amazed.
  • I had never read anything like it before.
  • Part history, part fantasy, part fairy tale, part magic realism.
  • Napoleon, Venice, food and the fate of women throughout history - all themes I love in a book.
  • But I wasn't sure if this was a writer for me, or not...until...

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit | Jeanette Winterson
  • Purchased in Sydney on the 29th Dec 1996.
  • The most extraordinary and memorable fictional memoir I have ever read.
  • Great opening line: Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle.
  • A devastating read, that made me realise I would be reading anything and everything that Winterson wrote in the future.
  • Including her 2011 memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, which revealed the bits from Oranges that were real and which were made up.
  • However, I've now read two versions of the same story, and do not need to reread either of them.

The Surgeon of Crowthorne | Simon Winchester
  • What a find this one was.
  • Picked up from the sale table in my local bookshop on the 11th May 2000.
  • I still talk about this book and what I learnt about the Oxford English Dictionary.
  • Subsequent Simon Winchester reads have not been so successful though.
  • I found Krakatoa too dry, A Crack in the Edge of the World meandered too much and by the time I tried The Map That Changed the World and failed to finish, I realised that except for this one book, Simon Winchester and I do not go together.
  • I'm too scared to read TSOC again, in case it alters my lovely memory of reading it the first time.
  • I will definitely be seeing the new movie, The Professor and the Madman, later on this month (unless the reviews are absolutely dog. Which is possible.)

That's five more books released into the wild, set free from my bookshelves, their memories committed to posterity here. Lady Chatterley, and all the wonderful memories of my time in the UK in 1991, will return to my bookshelf, safe for at least one more move!

Shelf Life #1
Shelf Life #2


  1. Brona. It's so fun to read these posts. I got your young phase very well. I also had such a different criteria in my twenties, hahaha.
    Glad you kept one book from those times.

    1. I'll be curious to see if any more books from my time in London in 1991 pop up as I go through this process. There won't have been many, otherwise my backpack would have got too heavy!

  2. It can be hard to part with books, but at the same time it can be liberating too, when you decide this or that book isn't really a keeper anymore. I like how you went so in depth on your experiencs with these. Great post!

    1. Thanks Greg, I'm also enjoying the writing of these posts a lot :-)

  3. I've enjoyed this! What a shame that your London memory book should not be a great actual book, but you can't have everything. Well-weeded, anyway!

    1. It is at least interesting to be reminded of how one's tastes change over the years and decades (still can't believe my adult life can now be divided into decades!)

  4. I love that you have so many memories attached to each book.

    1. I did a major book cull about 12 yrs ago when I moved to Sydney. Most of those books where the ones that didn't have significant memories or stories attached to them, although there have been a few that I regretted parting with. Which is why I'm taking this more cautious approach with what's left. Many of these books have already been with me for 4-6 moves, what's one more? But as my reading tastes change, I also realise that there are some books that I will never, ever read again, no matter how much I loved them at the time. It has been nice to revisit that love with these posts.


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